Valley Link’s first phase — the 26-mile section from the Pleasanton BART station to the proposed Mountain House station — now has wheels when it comes to being able to apply for federal funds.
The Federal Transit Administration Wednesday cleared Valley Link to enter the project development portion of the Capital Investment Grants program needed to compete for federal funds.
  “Acceptance of Valley Link in to the CIG program marks a key milestone in advancing this transformational project forward,” said Veronica Vargas, Chair of the Authority Board of Directors and Tracy City Council member. “This is the first, but critical step, in positioning Valley Link to compete for federal funding during a time when once-in-a-generation transit funding is available on the federal level.”
The clearance also means Valley Link could be eligible for upwards of $11 billion that the State of California may make available next fiscal year for transformative public rail transportation investments.
Valley Link will be extended from Mountain House to the proposed North Lathrop transfer station on Sharpe Depot land for the Altamont Corridor Express with stations in Tracy and River Islands at Lathrop as well. That ACE transfer station will be accessed from Lathrop Road literally less than a mile form Manteca’s western city limits.
The first phase is targeted to start work in 2025 with the connection to North Lathrop shortly thereafter depending upon funding.
The goal is to have the 42-mile, seven-station rail connector between BART and ACE up and running by 2028.
The Alameda County Taxpayers’ Association as well as the Transportation Solutions and Defense Fund filed a lawsuit last month in a bid to derail Valley Link.
Key points of the lawsuit include:
*The Alameda County Transportation Commission illegally shifted $400 million in 2013 Measure BB sales tax funds — that county’s equivalent of San Joaquin County’s Measure K — from the long-promised BART to Livermore extension.
*The ACTC has exceeded its legal mandate.
*The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is illegally funding Valley Link with bridge tolls that are supposed to pay for seismic retrofits.
The ACTC, in shifting the funding, contended the BART extension was too cost prohibitive and that Valley Link would be an effective way of further reducing congestion on the Interstate 580 corridor.
Litigants noted the largest project cost element is the demolition and relocation of the I-580 freeway to make room for the tracks. They pointed out more than   a billion dollars would be wasted tearing up 11 miles of recently built freeway, adding no transportation capacity in itself.
The Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional  Rail Authority is seeking to build the $3.6 billion commuter rail line to reduce commute congestion on Bay Area and Northern San Joaquin Valley freeways as well as improve air quality.
The move to make the ACE-BART connection in Lathrop is the linchpin of an effort to create a rail transit network connecting Merced, San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, River Islands, Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, and Elk Grove   along with other communities along the ACE, BART and Valley Link systems is the Union Pacific Railroad’s Lathrop Wye.
It also will close what is seen as a critical gap in the statewide rail system.
By connecting BART and ACE Valley Link riders will be able to transfer to other rail systems. That will tie together nearly 500 miles of passenger rail with more than 130 stations in the Northern California megaregion anchored by San Francisco, San Jose,  Oakland, and Sacramento.
“The Valley Link project has the potential to help thousands of commuters get out of traffic and more quickly back to their homes and families,” Senator Alex Padilla, D-California, said. “The San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area have become increasingly linked as more Californians live in one region and work in another. I look forward to continuing to work with the Federal Transit Administration to support this vital project, reduce pollution and congestion, and improve quality of life in the region.”